Life After a Stroke: How Music Opened the Door to One of My Dreams

macro photo of piano keys
Photo by Fernando Arcos on Pexels.com

by Joyce Hoffman, Writer, Stroke Advocate, and Thriver

As a teenager, I always said I would join a band, but I never did. Growing up in the 60s, I could play any song by ear, but nobody wanted a female keyboardist. I was thinking of starting a band, but my parents would consider that a waste of time. So I became an avid fan of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Motown.

My mother used to joke with her friends that the transistor radio was surgically attached to my ear. I loved music enough to write a few songs about summer love and broken hearts but did nothing with them. I played the piano since I was 8, but it wasn’t until 13 that I changed teachers from classical to popular, and once I learned chords, I was off and used to figure out the best notes as a pastime, in my head, even when my head hit the pillow for sleep. 

I wrote the entire score for the senior play in high school. I accompanied the great singers in the Talent Show competitions and later convinced my book club to sing a rock and roll and Motown medley while playing piano in the orchestra pit. In addition, I played the score of Fiddler on the Roof for my son’s elementary school production. 

When I went to college, having all the curricula in front of me, I majored in English, taught middle school for six years, and had a family. The dreams of becoming a band member faded slowly over the next bunch of decades. So instead, I became a writer, constructing the self-effacing words akin to Emma Bombeck, then to technical manuals to health articles. But my love of music endured. 

At 61, I suffered a hemorrhagic stroke that put me in the hospital for almost four months. It took me ten years and two more moves here in Portland to meet Anne Tillinghast, ukulele player and leader of The Backstrokes, and Keith Parkhurst, lead guitarist and percussionist. They welcomed me into this community group of people, all with brain injuries, except Anne, whose kindness is without boundaries. I met Dr. Cirino, the founder and editor of Your Health Forum, and many other people through Anne.

I suddenly realized one of my dreams: playing music with other people as a proud band member of The Backstrokes! Currently, we only play online in light of the pandemic through Zoom, but I’m chomping at the bit until we can be together again–live! Music saved me from a life of oblivion, and I can think of no better way to spend the time.

Music saved me from a life of oblivion, and I can think of no better way to spend the time.

About Joyce Hoffman

Joyce Hoffman was working in Philadelphia at Cozen O’Connor, an international law firm. Unfortunately, she had a stroke in the middle of the night in April 2009. Always seeking out the positive in everything she has ever done in her life, Joyce started a blog in August 2010 to give patients and caregivers the confidence to stand up for themselves, despite the indifference and negativity that confronted her daily.

Using only one hand to type since her right, dominant hand was paralyzed from the stroke, she goes through her story, beginning with the signs before she had the stroke and ending with now, when she has come to grip with the stroke.

Joyce was formerly a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, an author whose book went into its 4th printing, a part-time college professor until 2007, and a technology and corporate trainer for the last 20 years. Joyce is a worthwhile speaker who will make any person both heed the warning signs and, at that same time, come to realize the necessity of accepting a stroke and going on with their life.

Follow Joyce on her blogs at Dear Joyce and Stroketales. Check out her book The Tales of a Stroke Patient as well!

About The Backstrokes and the Northwest Brain Network

The Backstrokes is a Music Group

The Backstrokes is an instrument and song circle for stroke survivors, families, and advocates. It is an outreach of the Northwest Brain Network, co-founded by Anne Tillinghast and Christopher M. Cirino, DO MPH. The mission of the NBN is to create an online and in-person community for stroke survivors in the northwest and beyond and to advocate for stroke awareness and education through community events and seminars.

Strokes suddenly fracture social networks. The NBN aims to advocate for community support even before a stroke survivor is discharged from the hospital. Check out Dr. Cirino’s children’s book Nanna After the Stroke for more information. Click on the links to sign-up and get involved in the Northwest Brain Network.

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